Medical cannabis patients use less opioids, antidepressants, and alcohol, study finds

Medical cannabis
Upon using medical cannabis, patients in pain and those suffering from other medical conditions reduced their use of opioids, antidepressants, sleep medications, alcohol, and other dangerous substances, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Medical Cannabis led to decrease in use of dangerous substances

saludmóvil had a chance to speak with a lead researcher on the study, Brian J. Piper, PhD, MS, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

“So what we found is that after starting medical marijuana that many of the patients that were previously using opioids reduced the use of those agents,” Dr. Piper said. “So over three-quarters of the medical marijuana patients who were using opioids decreased the use of those agents.”

A breakdown of the study’s findings by numbers

According to the online survey of 1,513 people, 66.1 percent were from Maine, 24.2 percent were from Vermont, and 9.7 percent were from Rhode Island.

The researchers found a 76.7 percent drop in regular opioid use, 37.6 percent dip in antidepressant use, and a 42.0 percent drop in alcohol use.

In addition, the majority of respondents also cut down their use of other dangerous drugs after using medical cannabis.

  • 71.8 percent of patients used less anti-anxiety medications;
  • 66.7 percent used less migraine medications;
  • 65.2 percent used less sleep medications.

The preferred administration of medical cannabis: smoking it

“In the study, the preferred route of administration of Medical Cannabis for almost half of respondents was joint, pipe, or bong; vaporizer for one-quarter, edibles (1 of 10) or tincture (1 of 10),” Dr. Piper wrote in a subsequent email.

A whopping 84.7 percent of respondents used cannabis for medical purposes.

“Over two-thirds (70.4%) of patients in Maine and Rhode Island listed intractable or chronic pain followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (25.5%), severe muscle spasms (12.2%), or nausea (10.6%) as their qualifying condition. Although chronic pain was not a qualification to become a patient in Vermont’s marijuana registry when the survey was administered, 69.0% of Vermont respondents indicated that they had been diagnosed by a medical professional with chronic pain. Among all patients with chronic pain, three-quarters (74.8%) had back/neck pain, one-third (34.5%) neuropathic, one-quarter (26.9%) reported pain following trauma or an injury, one-fifth (21.0%) with post-surgery or abdominal (17.7%) pain, while cancer (5.9%) and menstrual pain (4.2%) were less frequent.”

Respondents reported that medical cannabis (MC) was most effective treating pain following trauma. On a scale from 0 to 100 percent (100 percent representing “complete relief”), respondents awarded medical cannabis’ effectiveness to treat the following conditions with each of its subsequent average scores:

  • In treating pain following trauma MC scored an average 77.9 percent;
  • In treating menstrual pain MC scored an average 77.5 percent;
  • In treating back and neck pain MC scored an average 73 percent;
  • In treating neuropathic pain MC scored an average 72.3 percent;
  • In treating cancer pain MC scored an average 75.8 percent;
  • In treating post-surgery pain MC scored an average 72 percent.

Man packing medical cannabis

How Federal Law is standing in the way of stopping the opioid epidemic

Despite the findings of this study and many others that have shown the benefits of medical cannabis,  Dr. Piper believes that the federal law against cannabis hinders the ability to find out whether medical cannabis use is the best strategy to stop the opioid epidemic.

“I’d say it’s too early to say that,” Dr. Piper said when asked whether cannabis was the best way to curb the opioid epidemic. “The Federal Schedule I status makes it extremely difficult to do randomized controlled trials with the strains of medical marijuana that patients are currently using.”

Does Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to crack down on medical marijuana?

President Donald Trump endorsed medical cannabis while campaigning, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of Jeff Sessions, who has outspokenly opposed legalized cannabis, as U.S. Attorney General has some cause for concern.

During a speech he delivered before law enforcement officials in Virginia, Mr. Sessions said that cannabis was only slightly less awful than heroin.

“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

Dr. Piper stated that there is an extremely low overdose potential relative to alcohol or heroin and opioids like vicodin and oxycontin.

“The overdose potential is certainly a lot less for cannabinoids than those other classes of agents,” Dr. Piper said. “The risk of overdoses is extremely limited to non existent with cannabinoid agents.”

The National Institute On Drug Abuse For Teachers, a division of the Federal Government’s National Institutes of Health, reports that it is very unlikely that a person can “overdose and die” from using cannabis.

The current laws of cannabis in the U.S.

Currently, eight states have approved the controlled legalized sales of cannabis after state voters directly approved the measures.

The District of Columbia also legalized the recreational use of cannabis, but not sales. In addition, 28 states and the federal district have legalized medical cannabis.

Recreational and medical cannabis use is still illegal nationally under the Controlled Substances Act and it is listed under the Schedule I list of drugs, along with heroin and LSD. In the end, Congress has the power to change that classification, but it hasn’t acted to do so.

Map of states where medical marijuana is legal

What’s next?

As of March 1, 2016, there are an estimated 2,604,079 medical marijuana users nationwide.

Dr. Piper conducts and calls for more research to ensure medical cannabis is a viable strategy for dealing with the opioid epidemic.

“I’d like to follow up this line of research by looking at medical records and pharmacy records to verify these self-recorded findings,” Dr. Piper said.

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